Robert Hale, in this extract from his new book, says Catholics and Anglicans • • should unite in a Benedictine spirit
THE BASICALLY Benedictine spirit of the Anglican Community in general, and of Anglican religious communities specifically, constitutes a healthy challenge for Roman Catholics (and especially for Roman Catholic Benedictines).
It means that there is a basic common experience underlying Anglican and Roman Catholic spirituality; since—monasticism predates our divisions, it constitutes a kind of 'ecumenical anamnesis' that makes present and living a shared heritage, and also opens up fresh horizons for ecumenical hope and commitment.
Certainly Benedictines have played a key role in the development of the Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue from the very beginning. Dom Leander, President of the English Congregation of Benedictines and Prior of Douai in the seventeenth century, was the first of a series of papal agents sent to England to explore possibilities of dialogue; his intuitive understanding-of Anglicanism has received warm praise from Anglican ecumenical scholars.
Closer to our own time, Dom Lambert Beauduin of Chevetogne, founder of the ecumenical review lrenikon, opened up new possibilities for the dialogue with his decisive paper, 'The Anglican Church, United not Absorbed', read by Cardinal Mercier at the pioneering Malines Conversations. On the Anglican side, the ecumenist Dom Benedict Ley and the liturgist Dom Gregory Dix, both of Nashdom Abbey, contributed notably to the Anglican Roman Catholic dialogue.
But beyond specific personalities, Anglicans have noted that the Benedictine commitment to the liturgical renewal and to a more Christcentred, biblical • and patristic approach to Christian life contributed significantly to prepar ing the way for Vatican II, which has narrowed the gap between 'Anglicans and Roman Catholics to an extent, 'not even the most sanguine could have foreseen'. Of course, monastic contacts and exchanges have multiplied since the Council, and organisations such as the Fellowship of St Gregory and St Augustine are dedicated to promoting permanent contact at the monastic and also parish levels.
The theological documents published by the Anglican-Roman Catholic Inte'inationalCOmitfission (Arcic) indicate substantial theological accord regarding many areas of the faith. The: Roman Catholic ecumenist, Jean Tillard, has argued that the next step must be, 'a spiritual coming together ... the reunion of two separated churches ... is primarily a spiritual matter.'
If this 'spiritual coming together' is the key to further progress. what if Roman Catholics already share a common fundamental spiritual experience not only with Anglican Benedictines, but also with the Anglican family as such? If such were the case, both 'sides' would want to deepen their awareness of this sharing and its important ecumenical implications.
The centrality of the Eucharist and the Word, the importance of praying the Psalms in community, the need to give personal prayer a solid biblical-patristic-liturgical nourishment, all these elements lead to an experience of Christian
munitarian and al.
r fawmhiiclih the emphasis is corn It is important to reflect deeply on this shared experience of Christian community, for it might constitute the substance of that Communion, of that koinonia, which is the very goal of the ecumenical movement.
The koinonia theme has become central for the Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue. In the recent Arcic statements on authority, for instance, koinonia is one of the key terms which keeps emerging to explain the precise context and scope
of Church 'authority. •
The koinonia ideal is treasured in a particular way by the Anglican Communion, which has always understood itself to be not primarily a juridicial entity or societas, bound together by canon law and organs of authority, but rather as a sacramental-liturgical Communion of the faithful.
The characteristic designations are revealing in this respect: the Church terms itself the Anglican Communion; its key liturgical text that unites the faithful is the Book of Common Prayer; and the traditional Anglican designation of the central, unifying sacrament is Holy Communion. Koinonia does constitute a central leitmotiv of the Anglican experience; indeed its whole dogmatic and spiritual theology can be articulated through this theme. One thinks in this context of a classic such as L. S. Thornton's The Common Life in the Body
But of course Benedictine life is also essentially koinonia, an endeavour to live the communioncommunity ideal as presented in the Acts of the Apostles. Monastic life from the time of St Pachomius has been the affirmation of these values, and indeed Pachomius and his disciples refered to monastic life simply as 'holy koinonia'.
Later forms of spirituality often brought an individualistic, inInt' approach which worked against the communitarian sacramental liturgical approach to Christian life. When the individualistic mentality was coupled with neoscholastic theology and strongly juridical concerns, difficulties were compounded for understanding the Benedictine experience, or the Anglican approach. Certainly Vatican II has done a great deal to renew the sense of Christian community, centred in Christ and celebrated in liturgy. as the context for Christian spirituality and life. , If the thesis dl'" the Benedictine spirit in "-Anglicanism is true then clearlythe twb Churches are drawn much closer together. Benedictine spirituality has not predominated in Roman Catholicism in recent centuries, and particularly not since the Counter Reform, but remains a most valid current of Roman Catholic spirituality, and recalls its medieval, patristic and biblical roots. To the extent that Roman Catholics focus on that heritage (especially in the light of Vatican II's affirmations about Christocentric biblical liturgical spiruality), they will be able to understand more clearly the Anglican experience and appreciate the spiritual 'consanguinity' of the two sister Churches.
Robert Hale's book, Canterbury and Rome, Sister Churches, is published by Darton Longman and Todd at £5.95